Increase your click thru rates with three simple steps.

Even paid search campaigns that are producing great results can be optimized. With any marketing channel, it is important to quantify a Return on ad spend (ROAS). If the ROAS is not where it needs to be for your campaigns then there are some modifications you can make to your campaigns to get them where they need to be. Where is an easy place to start? Focus on the click through rates (CTR). Make sure that the ads you are showing for a certain query or keyword are performing to their maximum potential. Here are three easy steps you can take to move the needle in the right direction.

Descriptive Ad Copy
Several companies use “broad match” keywords to gain mass coverage for a particular subject or topic. That way you can serve a much larger variety of ads for a specific search query. This works well for companies with large product catalogs or long tail keywords. The only issue is that the ad copy is not necessarily as targeted as they can be.

Try creating groups of exact or phrase match keywords (this will take some time) based on the demand you are seeing in your Adwords account. Then assign more descriptive ad copy to those keywords and get a better CTR.

Use Search Term Data

Okay this is a great tool. Analyzing searches will help you understand your target customers and the performance of your campaign from a behavioral perspective. Use the Search terms Tool.

  1. Sign in to your AdWords
  2. Click the Campaigns tab.
  3. Click the Keywords tab.
  4. Click the See search terms button above your statistics table.
  5. Select All from the menu to analyze the search terms for all your listed keywords. To only see search terms for specific keywords, first select the checkboxes for the keywords you’re interested in, then click Select from the menu.

Establish what Search terms are converting for you and how they are affecting your overall CPA or ROAS. You may find that focusing on long tail keywords may lower your overall cost and convert better. Break these out in groups to manage them better.

Establish High Volume Search Queries

You can also use the tool above to establish your top search queries and begin breaking our exact phrase match keywords for these campaigns (and ad copy as we discussed earlier).  Then remove them from the broad match group. This will isolate keywords that have a low quality score or rank and that have historically driven down the overall campaign and costing you more advertising dollars. You can still keep that group, just manage it separately.

There are several opportunities to increase the performance of CTR, but ultimately you want to optimize your campaign for performance. Long term, with a higher CTR, Google will view those ads as having more authority and reward your efforts by boosting ads at a lower cost and show them more frequently in a higher position.

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Search Engine Optimization Ranking Factors

Now that many businesses are growing their brand online, the desire to rank well organically for key search terms has been a major focus. As any marketer who has an overwhelming passion for his career, I constantly discuss initiatives and strategies involved in driving business success online. It’s difficult sometimes when speaking to friends to explain concepts of search engine optimization. It’s almost a concept that people are afraid to engage in because they do not understand it. “SEO” is spooky language to the laymen trying to wrap their head around how to get “buzzwords” on their page. Yes, I actually had a friend utilize the term “buzzwords” in a conversation recently regarding SEO, rendering our conversation futile for me at that point. But, SEO is not difficult. It’s not complicated. It just takes some research, implementation skills and time. There is no arbitrary decision in determining rankings. Google has a distinct algorithm that justifies placement for every web page in search results.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has two main components – On Site and Off Site

On  Site SEO –
There are many factors in determining placement and rank, but there are three main categories that Google factors in when determining placement for certain searches.

CONTENT -
In advertising we always hear “Content is King.” That is no different online. Websites must have solid, well written, substantial content. Google has to know that your page is sufficient enough to answer a searcher’s query. If you know what terms you want to rank for, include them in the page content. This will also help the visitor find what they are looking for. Keep the content fresh and current. Having solid, up to date content on all landing pages is paramount for any SEO strategy.

PAGE STRUCTURE -
It is important, especially for a webmaster to understand SEO and its potential impact to the business. “Googlebot” (Google’s spider robot) must be able to effectively and efficiently crawl your sites web pages for its index. Otherwise, how can it know what your site is about? Many factors play into this, but the main components are site speed, accessibility, site maps, page structure and URL structure. Keep URLs descriptive and concise. Design the site in CSS and eliminate tables and styles from loading of every page.

CODE –
The HTML is very important. This is your opportunity to speak directly to Google and let them know what your pages are about. Take a look at your title and meta data. Make sure the tags are descriptive and consistent with you page content. Make sure the keywords are relevant to your page. Make sure to use “rel” tags to indicate which pages and links on your site are valuable and which ones are not. Manipulation of the HTML on a site is the best way to plea your case to a search engine on the value of your website.

Off Site SEO -
Now you have designed and structured your page to rank well for certain search queries. That is the easy part. Google also uses elements off of your site to determine how valuable your site is.

LINKS
Links, Links, Links! Probably the biggest component to the Google algorithm is Page Rank, the numerical value assigned to each web page based primarily on other sites linking to it. Page rank is assessed a 0 to 10 value (10 being the highest). Google looks to see not only how many sites are linking to you, but what is the page rank of those inbound links? This is basically Google’s method for determining what other sites are vouching for your site and the value of those sites. Having solid links from high page rank domains with solid anchor text relating to you site is a big win.

DOMAIN AUTHORITY –
Having a strong domain authority is important for success on the web. The primary factor of this is age of domain or domain history. How long has your site been around? Has it been seeing steady traffic and visits? I understand that not all websites have been around 10 years, so you have some catching up to do. How do you drive it? Easy, go get traffic even if it is paid traffic. Web traffic creates domain authority. The more traffic you receive, the better you will rank, and the more traffic you will receive. It is a snowball effect.

SOCIAL -
Social Media and Social Networking has become a major factor in search engine rankings. Google relies heavily on social sharing, reviewing, rating, etc to determine the brand reputation and value through the social community. Facebook “likes” and Google “+1” are also ways Google determines the value of certain pages. It is also a reason to manage your business reputation online and create conversations about topics relevant to your business. Every business should have a presence on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Blog, etc.

GEOGRAPHY -
Location is a growing part for SEO. Searches are now geo-targeted based on your IP address. Google knows to serve you a local result first, specifically if a regional term like “Nashville” is included in the search query. Local SEO is continuing to grow as a major factor in search rankings as more local businesses engage in online marketing strategies.

There you have it. No real “secret sauce” or “spooky” concepts. This is a good general guideline on the basics of Search Engine Optimization and how you can get the most out of search rankings online. Once you dive into SEO, there are more components but as a general rule, these seven initiatives should point you in the right direction.

May the force be with you.

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Local SEO – Snapshot for increasing search rankings for the brick and mortar.

I have been working in the online space for several years and I have seen strategies and priorities change for search dramatically year over year. A certain algorithm change or additional resource or tool has allowed us to continuously change how we manage organic search rankings. No big shocker here, I know. But, a ton of the strategies that apply to ecommerce sites, do not necessarily apply to the brick and mortar – Local businesses looking to drive traffic through search – the birth of Local SEO.

Currently, I am working with several companies looking to drive their business online through improved rankings on search engines and we have been able to put together a quick outline of some successful tips and strategies that have helped businesses drive leads on a local level.

1.       Before engaging in driving online rankings, it is very important that you understand your customers. Who do you want to target? What are they searching for that would lead them to you?  Whether you have a good grasp on your target demographic, it pays to do some research. Google Adwords can provide you with opportunities data on keywords based on search volume that will help you get a grasp on what your customers are searching for. If you are not using Google Adwords currently, check out the Keyword tool .

2.       Once you have established the search terms you are looking to target and rank well for in organic search, utilize them on your website. Remember, today you cannot just design pages for visitors, but also search engines like GoogleBot and Slurp.  Check out this article from Internet Retailer earlier this year on how ecampus.com scaled this hurdle.

Analyze the title tags and meta data. Create crisp and accurate descriptions. Flesh out your homepage with legit and relevant content, including latent semantic content to tell your visitors who you are and what you do. Make sure to use H1 tags as headings to give your customers (and search engines) a snapshot of your main value propositions by including search terms in the content you established from step 1.

3.       Include your contact information on all of your pages. This will help search engines solidify your geography and let them know that you are a relevant result for that city or town. Google loves to display local results to geo-targeted searchers. This is because they are trying to refer searchers to the best possible result based on a given search query. If a search occurs in Chicago for “Hardware”, Google takes that into consideration in determining how they rank results on a page. If Google knows that Bluewire Hardware is in Chicago, it will tend to boost that result. FYI – I have no intention of opening a hardware store in Chicago. Not yet.

4.       Local directories are a major part of Local SEO. Visit the following websites who we deem major authorities on local reviews and content and set up your business. Claim it if it already exists and begin to use these sites to your benefit. Google looks very highly on these sites and will display them in search results. Why? Because they share reviews on businesses and expose businesses that Google may or may not want to recommend.  They are all free last I checked. It should just take you an afternoon.

  • Topix
  • City Search
  • Merchant Circle
  • Yelp
  • Judy’sBook
  • Google Places
  • Yahoo Local
  • Super Pages
  • Yellow Book
  • Manta

5.       Create a presence on social channels like Facebook. Foursquare, etc. to engage users and leverage mobile users as advocates of you brand. Claim your business on Foursquare and create a special so users will see your Venue when they are in the area and checking into other establishments. Create a conversation and leverage your likes, etc.  to create reviews out on the web.

Clearly there are a ton of opportunities for growing your business online. These are just a few quick pointers on how to jumpstart you’re online marketing efforts for your brick and mortar. Please feel free to drop me a line with any questions as this is really the 50,000 foot view.

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Endeca Discover 2011

Last week, I attended Endeca Discover 2011 in Phoenix Arizona. The conference consisted primarily of case studies and technical workshops geared for Endeca software users.  While there were some great sessions devoted to the software and its range of uses, most of the sessions I found myself in related specifically to social media and mobile initiatives that many of these Internet Retailer top 100 companies were implementing to prepare their businesses for the growing markets.  I have compiled a list of interesting facts and takeaways regarding social media and mobile marketing that I thought would be interesting discussion points to share.

Developing a mobile application? Best Practices –

  • Make it scalable – Develop for Iphone, android, then blackberry
  • Know your customers – Build for your users
  • Set realistic Expectations – Not every company is Amazon
  • Be prepared to move swiftly  – implementation time is huge
  • Don’t create another silo – App design, experience, data should match web site
  • While useful, avoid letting the HPPO Effect (highest paid person’s opinion) trump design. Let data drive design
  • Measure results and learn from customers – Mobile AOV much lower than traditional website

How do you promote it?

  • Use social media (Twitter, Facebook, blog) to promote the app
  • Leverage your email list to engage users – start with loyalty customers.
  • Create a contest or promotion to incentivize downloads
  • Pinpoint ease of use

Interesting Studies on “Super Connecteds” (love this term) –

“Super Connecteds” – online users who own/use 5 or more device types to access internet. (PC, laptop, Tablet, Smartphone, Television, Gaming console, etc.)

  • Tablets will eclipse laptop sales by 2015
  • 43.2 Million homes will have internet connected television by 2015
  • Kinect for XBox reached 10 million sales in 2010 (released in November)
  • 58% of US adults will use internet to research product prior to purchase – up from 43% in 2007

Social Commerce –

  • Currently 662 Million Facebook users
  • Average Facebook user age – 38 years old
  • 66% of consumers  are inclined to login to ecommerce sites with Facebook connect application
  • Once logged in via Facebook Connect, users are 78% more likely to share reviews, ratings and other content.
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How did the Google “Panda/Farmer” Update affect your Site?

At the beginning of last week lots of webmasters and online marketers were shocked to see massive shifts in traffic and ranking on Google’s Organic search results page. These changes are due to what Google is referring to as the “Panda” algorithm update. According to a post on the Official Google Blog(http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/finding-more-high-quality-sites-in.html) Google made a change to their natural search algorithm that would noticeably impact 11.8% of queries on their site. The blog post noted that

“the change is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on”

Many sources in the search marketing field have called this the “farmer” update as they see it as an update to Google’s algorithm to help remove content farms from search results. While that may be an impact of the change I believe the change had the same purpose as every change Google makes to their algorithm: cleaning up the search results to create a better end user experience for the searcher.

But my site is not a “Content Farm”, why did my rankings suffer?

Because the change was targeted at a type of content, not a type of website. Content farms usually consist of poorly written articles about everything under the sun so that the site will rank and get traffic and sell ad-space. Some of these sites republish articles or parts of articles to add more content. This algorithm change is aimed at this sort of duplicate content across the web. For example if your site contains standard product descriptions that would be shared by other vendors in your market you may have seen a decline. Sourced reviews from sites like yelp that show up all over the web have been problematic as well.

How to Beat it, (Quality) Content Is King

Google has make some changes to tweak their algorithm (http://searchengineland.com/google-weve-made-no-significant-changes-to-the-farmer-update-66591) but they have said that overall it has increased search quality and that they have no plans of “reversing” the change. To fight negative effects from this update I would recommend building out a strategy to increase the amount of unique quality content on your site. Use new product reviews, new product descriptions, or more original articles with in-depth data to support any arguments.

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Affiliate Summit West Session Review

We attended Affiliate Summit West last weekend and had the privilege of sitting through James Martel’s session on “Affiliate Marketing for Beginners”. I originally attended the session in hopes of picking up a few new affiliates, but figured the session to be a fantastic refresher on the basics of Affiliate Marketing and the principles of the channel and how they apply. The session was fantastic and my favorite session from the “Meet Market” workshops. As I sat through the session, I made a note to summarize the presentation  in a future blog to help potential clients and colleagues better understand the foundation of Affiliate Marketing and how the 5 main players in the channel work together to increase revenues online.

1.  The Merchant/Advertiser

The Merchant or Advertiser is a website selling the product or service. Companies like ecampus.com or burkedecor.com typically favor affiliate programs because it allows them to leverage a group of online marketers (affiliates) to promote their brand using a “pay per performance model” or Cost per Action model (CPA) to drive visits and revenues. A merchant will establish a reasonable commission or bounty working inside their margin to pay for a sale or lead on the site. It has become extremely popular in the last 8 to 10 years because it is a low-risk form of online marketing..

2.  The Publisher/Affiliate

Affiliates are typically online marketers that are experienced in driving traffic to websites. They typically carry no actual products, but leverage their site traffic to earn commissions or bounties from the merchant they have partnered with. Affiliates typically work with several merchants and offer deals, incentives or content to push their users to the merchant site using a special link that is specific to them and allows the merchant to track referrals and allocate the set commission accordingly.

The most popular types of affiliate sites are:

  • Comparison Shopping Sites
  • Coupon and Deal Sites
  • Loyalty and Reward Sites
  • Niche Content Sites
  • Blogs
  • Podcasts
  • Email and Newsletter Sites
  • Shopping Directories

3. The Network

Networks are secure sites that serve as the liaison between affiliates and merchants. Sites like www.shareasale.com and www.cj.com provide a user interface for affiliates and merchants to find one another. They also allow merchants to create links and creative for affiliates to use on their sites. Networks also mange the distribution of individual tracking links and reporting tools that both parties can use to track performance. Another great benefit of working with networks is the fact that they handle all payouts and accounting, simplifying the payment process for both merchant and affiliate.

4.  The Agency

Agencies, also known as OPM’s are companies dedicated to the management of an affiliate program. Bluewire Group is an agency that helps merchants create, launch, manage and grow their affiliate programs.  This is a great formula for mid-level companies looking to leverage marketing professionals familiar with this channel to improve results.

5.  The Customer

The last and most valuable piece to affiliate marketing is the customer.  Customers navigate through the funnel from affiliate site to merchant and purchase the desired product or service. Customers must be the focal point for all parties involved in affiliate marketing to make the recipe work. From first touch to conversion, the affiliate marketing partnership between merchant and affiliate has the responsibility to provide exceptional customer experience.

As Affiliate Marketing continues to become a viable and affordable way for marketers to make money online, room for expansion will continue to grow as well. There are tons of opportunities out there and resources available to jump in and start earning. It is never too late. Get to work.

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“Herding Cattle” – Tips for a successful website conversion rates

When it comes to an eCommerce campaign, many factors decide the success or failure of the site design. We have discussed these in depth and understand that each brand will bring upon new challenges and exceptions. What works for one site may not translate to another brand or vertical. However, there are certain aspects of design that have been proven and tested. Conversion is king in my opinion. Getting customers through the process is the ultimate goal for any website. I have heard many keynote speakers refer to it as “herding cattle”, and analogy that I feel is the perfect fit. This all starts with a single or collection of landing pages – the entry point at which a visitor first experiences your site.

When designing these pages it is very important to help your visitors through the process, eliminate confusion and establish trust. Below are a few quick ideas on how you could enhance your current process.

Call to Action
Having an effective call to action is an essential part of any website.  Every successful website should have a clear objective it wants users to complete.  This is essentially providing your visitors with a direction.

Where do I click? Your users should be able to look at your website without reading it and know immediately where they need to click  to proceed.

Checkout  Skype’s homepage. Notice how they establish a clear path for the user with distinct green buttons.

skype-homepage

A call to action should not just be limited to the homepage. Every page of your site should have some form of call to action that leads the user on. If the user reaches a dead-end they will leave without responding to your call.

Maintain Design Scent
Websites should maintain a certain design throughout the entire process of on online experience.  If your call to action is green, it should remain green through the entire process. Site headers and footers should remain constant as well. This is typically managed with CSS, but is an important piece of optimizing site conversion.

Share your UVP
What is your UVP (Unique Value Proposition)? It is important to highlight what you do well and perhaps better than the competition. According to Wikipedia:

A value proposition is an offer that describes the quantifiable benefits that individuals or organizations making an offer promise to deliver. Its development is based on a review and analysis of the benefits, costs and value that an organization can deliver to its customers, prospective customers, and other constituent groups within and outside the organization. It is also a positioning of value, where Value = Benefits / Cost

This is very important information to share with your users. Your value proposition must be clear, relevant, and easy to understand. This will help build authority and trust on your product and site.

There are several strategies to optimize site conversion rates and a ton of material on the subject. If this is something you would like to pursue, I would suggest picking up a copy of Brian Eisenberg’s “Call to Action” and Robert Caldini’s “Influence: Science of Practice”. These are both great reference materials for the subject and certainly required material for any site or landing page redesign.

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Bluewire Group Announces Partnership with Koko Fitclub

Koko Fitclub NashvilleBluewire Group would like to welcome Koko Fitclub (http://www.kokofitclub.com) to our list of valued partners. Koko Fitclub, the fitness industry’s most exciting new health club franchise.

We are very excited about the opportunity to work with the group and drive their online presence to a new level. To learn more about their cutting edge products, visit their website or Facebook page here.

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PPC Strategy, Automated Vs. Manual bidding

PPC marketing can be tricky at times as there are many factors that can play into making bidding decisions. Seasonal factors, economic factors, maybe your business is having a sale at a certain time and you think people might react well and produce a higher conversion rate. Either way, your goal when managing PPC marketing should be to generate traffic and then profit from that traffic. You will want your ad to be at different places based on the cost and your potential profit.

Some PPC marketers choose to do this by manually manage bids through Google Adwords and Microsoft’s Adcenter. These bidders watch trends and mine data to make their bid decisions. This creates 2 main problems. Firstly, you will have a serious load of work on your hands if you want to run a PPC campaign with a large set of keywords. To manage each individual keyword and to notice differences in rank takes a lot of time and some spreadsheet magic. Secondly you would be working with data that might be 2 or 3 hours old and attempting to make real time decisions on it, leaving you following the trail of your competitors. However, if you are working on a budget with a relatively small budget and keyword list, this is the way to go.

When dealing with large budgets it can be difficult to scale out paid search programs and still manage bids to maximize traffic and profit. This is where automatic bid management solutions such as Omniture Searchcenter comes into play. Often called “set it and forget it” PPC, these bid management tools regulate your bids based on rules you set and trigger bid changes in Adwords or Adcenter to accomplish your goals.

In the end, choosing the right PPC management strategy is based on your needs and your budget.

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Online Retail – How valuable is site optimization and conversion?

When talking to our clients I spend a hefty amount of time discussing search engine marketing strategies, customer acquisition tactics and overall web traffic initiatives. Most of the time we don’t spend our initial conversations about site conversion and its importance in today’s market.  Maybe because some retailers take it as a slap in the face and a personal shot at their branded storefront.  However, after we begin to pour through data and analytics, it always becomes a focal point of our strategy. In my opinion conversion rate is the first place to start with mid-level and larger websites.  Many conferences and rugs are dedicated to this very topic nationwide as it continues to push to the forefront of company agenda.

Did you know that the average global conversion rate hovers around 2-3%? That means that only 2-3 visitors out of 100 visitors complete a purchase or lead.  This is a great metric for improvement for most online retailers and something they should definitely focus on.  Especially in a case where your conversion rate hovers below 2% . There is room for improvement, believe me. What would an additional 1% growth to your conversion rate mean in terms of revenue? You could double your online business overnight with a few simple tweaks and changes.

Focus on:

  • Call to Action
  • Customer Experience
  • Eliminating Possible Gaps
  • Maintaining Design Scent
  • Adding a Value Proposition

    Checkout the following infographic I felt illustrated this point more thoroughly.

via webdesigncool.com

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